Ardern 'strongly condemns' Kabul airport 'terrorist attack'

Source: 1News

The New Zealand Defence Force finished its final evacuation flight from Afghanistan before the suicide attacks at Kabul airport on Friday, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister said. 

New Zealand’s C-130 Hercules, which was evacuating people from Kabul, landed in the United Arab Emirates Thursday night, Jacinda Ardern and Peeni Henare confirmed in a statement. 

No NZDF personnel were in Kabul at the time of the explosions as they had all safely departed on the final flight. 

The NZDF also confirmed that no New Zealand evacuees were left within Kabul airport.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with all of those in Afghanistan who have lost lives or suffered injuries, including US forces, our other partners on the ground, and the families and friends of all who have been affected by this appalling attack,” Ardern said.

“We strongly condemn what is a despicable attack on many innocent families and individuals who were simply seeking safety from the incredibly difficult and fragile situation in Afghanistan.”

Speaking to media Friday morning, Ardern called it a "terrorist attack".

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks on crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul's airport Friday. 

At least 60 people are dead and 140 others are wounded, a senior health official in Kabul told the BBC . US officials told the Associated Press 11 US Marines and a Navy medic were killed in the attacks.

New Zealand warned citizens and permanent residents still in Afghanistan on Thursday of an “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack”. 

They were told not to go to Hamid Karzai International Airport and to leave the airport if they were nearby.

Ardern couldn't confirm whether or not all Kiwis followed the advice. 

She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade were making contact with people who had registered on Safe Travel who are believed to have been near the airport. 

As of Friday, 540 people were registered with Safe Travel, and it wasn't yet known how many of that group had been evacuated, Ardern said. 

“We know with absolute certainty we did not get everyone out."

So far, there have been no requests for assistance from New Zealanders or other visa holders in Afghanistan related to the explosion.

Across three flights, the NZDF has successfully evacuated hundreds of people heading to New Zealand and Australia. Australia also evacuated a number of people heading to New Zealand. 

As of Friday, 276 New Zealand nationals and permanent residents, their families, and other visa holders have been evacuated from Kabul destined for New Zealand. 

Of these, 228 have already departed the United Arab Emirates for New Zealand.

A further 100 people, which included New Zealanders and Australians, were taken out on NZDF’s last flight out of Kabul. 

Final numbers of people heading to New Zealand will be confirmed as processing is completed. 

Ardern said the situation continued to change rapidly in Afghanistan. 

“Our next job is to consider what can be done for those who remain in Afghanistan still. That will not be a quick or easy task.”

Air Marshal Kevin Short, the Chief of Defence Force said eight nations had finished their missions in Afghanistan on Thursday at the same time as New Zealand.

He said a futher four countries were pulling out on Friday, which would leave "primarily" UK and US troops on the ground. Short said it would become clear in the coming days what the remaining troops would do. 

Ardern said the withdrawal of most international partners meant any evacuations beyond Friday would be more "difficult" and could take longer.

“But, we are not giving up on bringing those who need to come home, home. It will just look different than it has up to now.” 

National leader Judith Collins said New Zealand "must urgently step up plans to evacuate our Afghan allies" following the attack. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is worsening by the hour and our hearts go out to all those in the country, and United States forces, who have been caught up in this latest disgraceful and cowardly attack," she said in a statement.

“We support the decision to end New Zealand’s current operation to evacuate New Zealanders and their families, as well Afghanis employed by the Defence Force, given the very clear danger.

“But an unknown number of our Afghani allies – and possibly New Zealand citizens – have been left behind. Many of these Afghani allies stranded in the country are still awaiting visas to enter New Zealand.

“It is imperative that these visas are processed as the highest priority and the Defence Force develops a plan to get those in danger home to New Zealand as quickly and safely as possible.”

It has not yet been confirmed as to when deployed NZDF personnel and the C-130 aircraft will arrive back in New Zealand. 

On Thursday, New Zealand said it would no longer accept applications from Afghan nationals for resettlement in the country at this time.

This was because of the “rapidly deteriorating situation” and a “diminishing window for evacuations”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.